Cruz challenges Trump to pair of Indiana debates
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Republican presidential candidate Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzUp next in the culture wars: Adding women to the draft Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet 228 Republican lawmakers urge Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade MORE is challenging Donald TrumpDonald TrumpBiden administration to keep Trump-era rule of turning away migrants during pandemic On The Money: Biden, Pelosi struggle with end of eviction ban | Trump attorney says he will fight release of tax returns Lack of transatlantic cooperation on trade threatens global climate change goals MORE to a pair of debates in Indiana this week as he looks to knock off the GOP presidential front-runner there.

Cruz's campaign issued a statement Monday evening saying the Texas senator had accepted two invitations to debate in Indianapolis this week in events hosted by WRTV and WIBC.

The Cruz campaign suggested Trump was "afraid" to debate in the state, where the businessman has led by single digits in several polls released this month. 

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"Donald Trump continues to cower in Trump Tower, afraid to defend his positions," the campaign said, arguing that Trump "has no answer" on how he'd carry out his campaign promises.

The push to pressure Trump comes a day after the campaigns of Cruz and John Kasich announced a joint effort in several key upcoming states to deny Trump the needed 1,237 delegates to clinch the nomination before the Republican National Convention in July.

Cruz will have a clear path in Indiana, where he's the closest to Trump in polls, while his campaign announced it would stand down in Oregon and New Mexico, clearing the way for Kasich.

Trump characterized the Kasich-Cruz strategy as an "act of desperation" and argued Monday that the rivals' effort to deny him the necessary delegates "doesn't matter."

Cruz continued to attack Trump at a campaign event in Franklin, Ind., on Monday night, noting it’s been 46 days since the last GOP debate.

“I recognize that Donald Trump finds Megyn Kelly very, very frightening,” Cruz said, mentioning the Fox News anchor. “So if the moderators scare you, let’s have a town hall with questions from the Hoosiers.”

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Trump “won’t stand on that stage, and he won’t show the respect the men and women of Indiana deserve” by answering their questions in such a forum, Cruz charged.

As he discussed the lack of recent Republican debates, someone in the crowd made a chicken noise, prompting Cruz to ask, “Is Donald here in the background?”

This post was updated at 7:50 p.m.